Death After Sorrow

Hunting

The town of Faith turned out to be little more than a main street, one bed and breakfast, a grocer, a post office, and, of course, a pub. Which happened to be attached to the B&B. It was not a situation Sam was particularly thrilled with. They'd had to lay out cash for two separate rooms. Strict rules that there was to be no smoking, no drinking, no holes in the walls, and oh by the way, no gay sex, had been laid out by a woman who was on the wrong side of seventy.

"I'm starting to think maybe I should just go gay and accept it," Dean grinned as he dropped Sam's bag on his bed. He winced as he took in the bright pink flowers on the purple backdrop of the comforter, and the lilac wallpaper around them. His own room didn't look much different.

As light hearted as Dean's joke was, Sam knew that being separated was bothering his brother. Dean's habit of always taking the bed closest to the door had been thwarted, leaving the hunter with serious doubts as to his younger brother's security. Despite the fact that the over protection drove him up the wall most times, when he closed his eyes at night there was some security in knowing that whatever came through that door had to go through a pissed off Dean first.

"You keep working your way through every female population we come across, and you might not have much choice," Sam chuckled.

"That's not fair, Sammy," Dean answered smoothly. "I always leave a quarter for you, just in case you wake up possessed some day and want to have fun."

The pillow that Sam threw at him thumped the door as he closed it, wincing when he pictured trying to sleep on something hard enough to make a sound on wood. Looking down the daisy yellow hallway, Dean offered a silent prayer that they caught whatever this was fast.

"If I was ever going to go gay, this place would do it," Dean muttered, entering his own magenta room. Was there a handbook for little old ladies on how to completely destroy any amount of testosterone within a minimum amount of exposure that he had somehow missed? And was it sad that he suddenly missed their usual dingy haunts?

He carefully shoved their duffel bag under the bed, knowing that being nosy came with a small town, and doubled as of the age of fifty. The last thing they needed was the owner, Rita, finding a stash of weapons.

After doing so, he carefully checked his wallet. Bobby had loaned them some money, but it wouldn't last for long. And he seriously doubted that he'd score much at the pub. These good ole boys might be up for a game of poker, but he'd only get in one or two before word spread.

Damn. Meant he'd have to get work. Honest work. He near shuddered at the thought. He jumped at the pounding on his door. Opening it slowly, he was a little surprised to see Rita standing there.

"Dinner's going on the table in fifteen minutes. You boys," the word sounded ugly on her withered lips, "had better be there if you want to be fed."

Dean flashed her his most charming smile. "My brother and I will be there, with bells on! If it tastes half as good as it smells, it'll be the best meal we've had in a while."

If he enjoyed the elderly woman's embarrassment on her misinterpretation of their relationship a little too much, no one was there to call him on it.

Closing the door, he fished out a clean t-shirt and changed, hoping it would lessen his 'city' appearance. If they were going to get anywhere in this town, they'd have to do their best to fit in. After text messaging the dinner invitation to his brother, he made his way downstairs.

It did smell good, and there seemed to be a pile of food on the table. Seeing Rita struggling with a heavy platter loaded with a roast beef, he quickly took it from her and placed it on the table.

"Anything else I can do?" he asked sweetly.

Rita squinted her eyes at him for a moment, in which Dean felt every secret he'd ever carried be exposed, before nodding. "There's a pan of potatoes in the oven. Fetch them out."

When Sam walked into the dining room, he was surprised to see his brother setting the table under the careful supervision of their hostess. He took a moment to study the people in the scene. Rita was a slight old woman who still had a lifetime's worth of fire in her. The faded jeans and well worn flannel shirt spoke loudly of a husband who had passed away. But there was no denying the healthy vitality in her step. She'd worked hard for most of her life, and age be damned, she'd work until the end of it, too. He found himself liking her immensely, despite her automatic assumption on their sexual orientation.

Standing next to someone so obviously healthy, Dean seemed the frailer of the two by comparison. His eating habits of late had finally made their appearance in lost weight, the normally tanned skin seemed pale, and his brothers strong face had started to take on a gaunt look. Overall, if one didn't know enough to notice these changes, Dean's t-shirt revealed well defined muscles and a strong back. He moved with a grace, ease, and agility that only a lifetime of combat, stealth, and weapons training could give. Despite his obvious comfort in his own skin, there was a hesitation to those movements that hadn't been there before, as if Dean were moving with an invisible weight on his shoulders.

"Earth to Sam!" Dean called out, waving his hand in front of his brother’s face. "You know, staring at me like that isn't helping me convince her we're actually brothers."

Sam smirked, silently shaking away his thoughts and rising to the bait Dean had offered. "Actually, I was staring at the food. A home cooked meal like this looks better than you any day."

Rita chuckled as they sat down. Noticing neither was moving to load their plates, she frowned. "Something wrong?"

"Uh, no m'am. We're waiting for the other guests," Sam explained.

Rita laughed. "Dig in boys. There are no other guests. Don't get a lot of travelers through here."

Obediently, both boys added food to their plates. Sam frowned when he saw how little his brother had taken, but refrained from mentioning it. Starting his own meal, Sam neared closed his eyes in ecstasy. Not a fast food sign in sight. The beef was perfectly cooked medium well, the potatoes lightly spiced, and the carrots were candied. "My god, this is the best meal I've ever had," he mumbled reverently.

"You boys been on the road for a while then," Rita guessed with a smile, obviously pleased with the compliment despite her gruff response.

Dean grinned fondly at his brother. "You could say that." He turned back to the sharp woman, sensing that he had to tread carefully with her, and as close to the truth as he could manage.

"So what brings you to Faith?"

"Just following the work, M'am," Dean answered, aware now that his brother's attention was wholly on the plate of delights in front of him.

"You ranch hands then?"

Attuned to the fact that her lie detector was on full force, Dean shrugged. "In a way. I'm a mechanic. Old style."

Rita nodded, accepting. "Joe Springs runs a shop on the outskirts of town. He does a lot of contract business with the ranches. You go see him in the morning. Tell him I sent you. And quit M'aming me. Rita suited me just fine for seventy three years and it'll do for another twenty or so."

Dean grinned. "Thanks, Rita. I really appreciate it."

"What about him?" Rita nodded toward Sam, who was refilling his plate for seconds.

"He's a journalism student. Investigative. One of the stories here caught his interest, the woman who was found in her home, bloodless with no marks?"

Rita frowned. "Marie Miller. Damn shame, that. She was a good woman. Did a lot for this community. Don't recall as the police released the details, though."

Dean winked at her. "Like I said, investigative. So, you said she did a lot? How was she connected to the community?"

"About seven years ago, a big to do developer came striding into town. Wanted to commercialize it, said we could tap into the tourism industry. Trouble was, we're ranch people here, farmers. A change like that would have spelled disaster for the outlining ranches, cut them off. Faith is really just a supply run, you have to understand."

Dean nodded thoughtfully. "So turning it into a tourist trap would have brought greater economical security for the town itself, but would have eventually destroyed the surrounding farmsteads, polluted the soil, and bankrupted the exporting businesses. I can see how that would cause some controversy. Obviously, it didn't happen?"

"Marie rallied against them every chance she could, even managed to get some fancy environmentalist to do a future prediction for the ecological effects the proposal would have. Some folks, they didn't care. For a while there, it was townsfolk against the ranchers. Considering we need each other to survive, it wasn't pretty," Rita explained. "The town, we needed the income. So Marie brokered a deal between the mayor and the major ranch shareholders. I don't know the specifics of it, that kind of business isn't for someone like me, but it must have worked out."

"Sounds like she saved the town. She must have made a few enemies doing it, though. Her husband must have been devastated," Dean smoothly rolled out, just the right amount of sympathy in his voice.

Rita shook her head. "Marie was an odd one. She never liked the idea of setting up house and home. She had her causes, but otherwise preferred to be left alone. Except her weekly meetings."

Sam looked up. "Weekly meetings? Like a club?"

"He speaks! And with a full mouth, too!" Rita chided lightly. Sam had the decency to blush. "They'd meet out at the Somers Ranch every Friday night. Was invited to one or two, but they took the hint and stopped asking me. I know some of the other ladies who go, though. Nice folks."

"Do you think I could get a list of names? I would like to be able to talk to them, if they were Marie's friends. And what about her family? The article said that no one has showed up to claim the body yet?"

"It's been such a tragedy for the whole town, and the police already have the names. I'm not sure they'd appreciate a wet behind the ears reporter showing up," Rita hesitated.

Dean smiled gently at her. "We understand completely. Wrong time. Can I help you clear the dishes?" he asked, sensing they weren't going to get any more from her without arousing her suspicion. He needed the job she had offered. And she had enough spunk to have earned his hard won respect.

Rita glared at his plate. "Something wrong with my cooking?"

"No, just tired from a long day on the road," Dean explained. "I'm sure looking forward to breakfast, though."

Rita nodded sharply. "You'll need to catch Joe before he heads out, so I'll have a good meal for you on the table at six. And I expect you to eat more than a bite or two. Joe doesn't need you fainting away on him from hunger, and it'll look bad on me. I feed my boys here. It's what keeps the ranch hands coming."

Dean flashed her a smile, a little put out by the sudden attention. He turned to his brother. "Can you manage this? I really am tired."

Concerned, Sam nodded. "Sure, Dean. I'll see you in the morning."

He felt both young and old eyes follow him as he returned upstairs. He knew he should wait until he could discuss their information gathering tonight, but he was exhausted. He fervently hoped he was tired enough that his dreams wouldn't disturb him tonight.

Rita turned sharp eyes on the younger brother, who was hastily shoveling in the last few forkfuls of food left on his plate. "Do you need a job while you're in town too?" she asked.

Sam shook his head. "I've got to work on the article. Something like this could buy me a full ride next fall."

"That's pretty supportive of your brother, to bring home the bacon while you're going to school. Don't get me wrong. Looking out for your family is important, but shouldn't he be doing what he trained for?" Rita probed.

Sam's smile was sad as he stood to help. "Believe me, Rita. Dean's doing exactly what he was trained for."


Sam jerked awake, startled by something. Sitting up slowly, he took careful inventory of his room, noting that nothing seemed out of place. Straining his ears, he heard it again. A low whimper. He closed his eyes against the cry that followed and the realization it brought. Dean was having another nightmare.

Quickly he went into his brother's room, hoping he could bring Dean out of it before he screamed down the entire house. The last thing they needed was a nosy bed keeper wondering why a mechanic would be screaming bloody murder in his sleep.

Sitting on the bed, he placed a firm hand on the sweat slicked bare shoulder, tensing even as he did so, ready to avoid the knife that he knew was under Dean's pillow.

"Dean." He shook harder as a low cry pierced the air. "Dean, come on, you gotta wake up." Dean tossed, but remained otherwise unresponsive. Knowing he had no choice, Sam walked across the hall to the bathroom and filled a glass with cold water. Returning, he held his brother down and dumped it on his face.

"Shit!" Dean gasped, coming awake. Sam immediately retreated, watching as his brother gasped for breath. As soon as he heard the low groan, he grabbed the waste basket and held it as Dean emptied what little he had consumed over dinner.

"Easy, Dean," Sam soothed, feeling the trembling muscles beneath his hand as he kept his brother from falling off of the bed. "Just relax."

Despite having very little to bring up, Dean's stomach continued heave for a few more minutes. He flopped back on the bed, running a hand over his face to get rid of the water. It took him another few minutes to catch his breath. By the time he could trust himself to talk, Sam had emptied the basket and dampened a cloth for him to wipe his face with.

"Thanks," Dean croaked, accepting the glass of water Sam held out to him.

"Dean, you gotta tell me what's going on," Sam whispered. "You can't keep this up."

"It was just a nightmare, Sammy. I'm fine," Dean insisted. But he wasn't. For the first time since he'd started having them, there was more than just a lingering sense of terror. This time, he remembered some of it. And it had seemed awfully damned familiar.

"No, you're not. And we can't afford your pride right now. We're on a job. The last thing we need is Rita asking questions," Sam hissed.

Frowning, Dean realized his brother was right. Whatever he had done to wake Sam, they were incredibly lucky it hadn't woken the old woman. "Honestly, Sam, I don't remember a lot. I just wake up and know that whatever it was, it was terrifying."

"But this time is different?" Sam pushed, reading the half-truth in Dean's body language.

"Just flashes. I don't know of what. It just seemed familiar, somehow. But nothing clear."

"Dean, I don't think you should take the job tomorrow. What if you go into a trance? How are we going to explain that?"

"We need that job, or we can't afford to stay here while we figure this out. We've got some leads to work from. Tomorrow you need to head up to the Somers Ranch. Use one of the credit cards and see if you can't get us a truck rental. The Impala won't last long on these roads," Dean instructed, already feeling better now that his mind was focused on work.

Sam nodded and rose, knowing he wasn't going to get any more out of his brother tonight. "Sure, Dean."

"Sam?" It was a loaded question, full of apologies that his brother couldn't bring himself to actually voice, full of insistence that their minds be focused on the job in front of them, and carefully laced with the truth that Dean would tell more if he knew more himself.

"I know, Dean."


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